Tag Archives: Australia

One Cow Versus 100,000 Smaller Organisms

I once saw a cartoon which depicted vegetarianism in an unflattering light: it showed a closeup of the front of a combine harvester, before which fled an array of inoffensive woodland creatures, yelling things like “Where’s mama?!?” and “I don’t know, just run!”

Edit: found it.  It’s from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

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Agriculture is not without its damage to the environment, and to animals.  A field of wheat or corn is home to mice, rats, birds, rabbits, various insects, and a host of other creatures, at least some of which are inevitably ground up along with the harvestThis recent article on an Australian web site suggests that the many small lives we grind up to harvest a crop in an area of land outweigh the lives of the cows which would graze that land were it devoted to pasture.  (If you’re interested, this article wanders into the notion a little further.)

The presentation of the issue is somewhat simplistic: it assumes that only a few cows are raised in the hypothetical pasture (i.e., it’s not a feedlot, the American standard); that “pasture” is equivalent to unspoiled natural land; that all the wildlife in the field are killed by the plow; etc.  I think it’s a valid notion, but the solution to this issue is not to have everyone eat nothing but red meat.  The problem lies more with how we produce our food, and what methods we’ve adopted to produce that food cheaply, and less with exactly what food we are producing.  For example, we can certainly develop methods to raise and harvest crops more sustainably and with less “collateral damage”.

I don’t think we’re really able to exist, at all, without causing some damage to the world.  It’s in our nature as consumers of energy — it’s got to come from somewhere.  However, we can choose to minimize the amount of damage we cause, and try to choose the least damaging places to cause it.

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400 Die In One-Vehicle Crash

Sheep.  Photo by penywise at morguefile.com.

Sheep. Photo by penywise at morguefile.com.

A while ago, I noted a flurry of articles which casually mentioned that, when two barns  at an egg farm burned down, 470,000 chickens died.  No-one seemed to find it a cause for concern that this meant each barn had held 235,000 hens.

Today I noticed many articles about a truckload of sheep which “crashed, rolled, and hung over an Australian overpass” on May 31, 2012.  (As a bonus, that particular article also begins with the highly professional and journalistic sentence “Counting sheep has never been so horrific.”)  Sheep rained over the side of the overpass and fell on motorists below.  This article has a little more detail, and some rather sad photos if you’re feeling brave.

And again, a major point is being missed….

FOUR HUNDRED SHEEP?  On one truck?  Four HUNDRED sheep?

There’s no information about the model of truck involved (there are photos though, including some here, here, and here), but, concerning the maximum size of haulage vehicles, the Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales mandates:

A trailer built to carry cattle, sheep, pigs or horses on two or more partly or completely overlapping decks must not have more than 12.5 metres of its length available for the carriage of animals, measured from the inside of the front wall or door of the trailer to the inside of the rear wall or door of the trailer, with any intervening partitions disregarded.

12.5 meters is approximately 37.5 feet.  From the same document, we know the trucks are at most 2.5 m (7.5 ft) wide, so one level of the truck has (37.5 x 7.5) = 281.25 square feet.  281.25 square feet x (let’s be generous, and hope this truck, like this one, has four levels) 4 vertical levels = 1125 square feet in the entire vehicle.  That gives us…2.81 square feet per sheep?  What?  For an animal which can weigh 150-350 poundsThree square feet?  150-200 pounds is about an average human…can you fit in three square feet?  (That’s a little more than three sheets of typing paper, by the way.)

I’m not insane, apparently — this is a real thing, against which people have been protesting for a while.   Why aren’t we hearing more about it?  A Google search for “australian sheep truck” turns up pages and pages of nearly verbatim reposts of this story — why isn’t anyone curious as to how four hundred sheep got onto one truck, or why they are allowed to be crammed in that way?